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FORT SMITH -- Sebastian County is poised to test new voting equipment for the state by letting county voters use it in the March 1 primaries.

The Sebastian County Election Commission and county officials unveiled Tuesday the 250 voting machines, 54 tabulators and 94 digital poll books that will be set up in the county's 41 polling places March 1 and in three early voting sites.

Early voting begins Tuesday and runs through Feb. 29.

For the past 10 years, voters in Sebastian County have had the option of voting on now-obsolete electronic machines or by paper ballot, Election Commission Chairman David Damron said.

Both will be replaced by equipment the Arkansas secretary of state's office bought from Omaha, Neb.-based Electronic Systems & Software for testing in Sebastian, Boone, Columbia and Garland counties.

Damron also announced Tuesday that a third early voting site will be opened at East Side Baptist Church at 2710 Massard Road in Fort Smith. It will be added to early voting sites at the Sebastian County Courthouse in downtown Fort Smith and Greenwood City Hall, which is being used for the first time in place of the county courthouse in Greenwood.

"We're hoping that adding a third site will increase voter participation by giving greater access to a polling site prior to the day of the election," Damron said.

County Clerk Sharon Brooks said that when voters enter a polling site, they won't have to get in separate lines to get a Republican or Democratic ballot. They will give their names, scan their driver's licenses or voter ID cards on the electronic poll book, sign the tablet and tell the worker what party's ballot they want.

A printer will prepare the ballot card with a bar code that designates the ballot the person requested.

A poll worker will direct people to the voting machine where voters will feed the ballot into the slot. They will enter their votes using the touch screen. Voters will be prompted to check the ballot and confirm the votes before hitting a button to retrieve the completed ballot.

Then voters will be directed to feed the marked ballot into the tabulator at the polling site.

"They have not voted until their ballot has been entered into the DS200" tabulator, Election Commission Coordinator Meghan Hassler said.

Hassler said about 140 poll workers have been trained on the new equipment and will be stationed at each polling site to assist voters.

The Arkansas secretary of state's office bought 167 of the voting machines and other election equipment for $986,815 as part of the equipment test for Sebastian County. With 167 machines, Brooks said, the county would have had to continue to use some paper ballots.

The election commission wanted to convert fully to electronic voting, for which the county needed another 83 machines. The Sebastian County Quorum Court voted in August to transfer $150,000 from the county clerk's recorder fund and $235,561 from the general reserve to buy the additional machinery.

Damron also announced Tuesday that the county has an emergency and inclement weather plan in case of bad weather during the primaries.

If one or more polling places cannot open because of an emergency or inclement weather, county and election officials will meet to determine where to consolidate polling places. They will get word out to voters through the media and the Sebastian County Emergency Notification System with Blackboard Connect, according to information distributed by the election commission.

Also, county judge's office staff, maintenance staff, Office of Emergency Management personnel and sheriff's office staff will post consolidation notification at polling locations.

NW News on 02/10/2016

Print Headline: Updated election machines unveiled

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